European biomass plant database

 

The use of biomass – mostly wood in pellet or chip form – is growing across Europe, with many power stations converting units to burn biomass instead of coal. However, there is increasing concern that biomass, once heralded as a vital climate solution, could in fact be fuelling the crisis. 

Research from ShareAction, and many others, has shown the assumption that biomass is a carbon neutral fuel, is in fact fundamentally flawed, and that the expansion of biomass infrastructure and corresponding increase in demand for biomass feed stock, would damage our prospects of meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. Our biomass plant database examines the current and future landscape of biomass across Europe.

76 plants currently burn a total of six million tonnes of biomass every year. This equates to cutting down and burning almost 2500km squared of forest annually [1], an area the size of 40 per cent of Germany’s Black Forest.

The resulting emissions are seven million tonnes of CO2 [2] at the point of combustion.

A few biomass plants are responsible for burning most of the total biomass. For example Drax in the UK – the largest biomass power station – burns 22 per cent of the total. Together the 10 largest biomass plants burn half of the total.

The fuel for these largest plants is most often made up of 100 per cent wood, in the form of wood pellets and chips. Plants that burn smaller amounts of biomass, are more likely to also burn coal, peat, straw or non–forest derived wastes:

  • Coal: nine plants, predominantly based in Poland and Czechia, burn coal with biomass. Five of these plants plan to increase biomass combustion.
  • Straw: four plants, all based in the UK, primarily use straw as their fuel. They are relatively small in scale burning between 200,000 and 280,000 tonnes of biomass per year.

47 per cent of biomass is burnt by only five utility companies across their 18 biomass plants: Drax, Ørsted, Fortum, ENEA and Engie. A large share of each of these (except Drax) are state owned. For example, Ørsted is 50 per cent owned by the Danish state. Governments have supported biomass plants through both policy and ownership.

73 per cent of biomass is burnt in only five countries across their 44 biomass plants: UK, Sweden, Poland, Denmark and France.

Biomass Burners: Company breakdown

 

Drax’s one power station burnt 7.2 million tonnes of biomass in the UK in 2018:

  • Drax have a total power generation capacity of 9GW, 2.6GW of which is based on biomass. Therefore 67 per cent of power was generated from biomass in 2018.
    Note: On 31 December Drax acquired 2.6GW of Scottish power assets which will reduce the percentage of power generated from biomass to 40 per cent.

Ørsted’s 4 CHP stations in Denmark (Avedøre, Herning, Skærbæk and Studstrup) burnt 2.62 million tonnes of biomass in 2018

Fortum’s seven CHP stations across Finland, Poland and Sweden have a total capacity to burn 3.73 million tonnes of biomass, however the net quantity of biomass that Fortum burnt in 2018 was 1.37 million tonnes.

  • Värta, Naantali, Brista and Hässelby are 50 per cent owned by Fortum
  • Järvenpää, Joensuu and Częstochowa are 100 per cent owned by Fortum

ENEA’s 2 biomass plants in Poland (Polaniec and Wytwarzanie) burnt 1.67 million tonnes of biomass in 2018

  • ENEA has a total power generation capacity 3GW. 26.5 TWh of electricity was generated from Polaniec and Whytwarzanie in 2018, only 1.53 TWh was generated from biomass combustion. Therefore only 5.8 per cent of power was generated from biomass in 2018.

Engie’s 2 power stations in Belgium (Rodenhuize and Les Awirs) burnt 1.57 million tonnes of biomass in 2018

As European countries look to move away from coal, the use of biomass is expected to rise. Proposed EU coal-to-biomass projects could increase biomass consumption by 607 petajoules (PJ) p/a. This would require 36 million tonnes of wood pellets and as a result, the biomass burnt in Europe will more than double.

As shown by recent research from climate think-tank Ember, new markets and companies are likely to adopt biomass power and heat generation.

54.4 per cent of the growth in biomass burning is likely to be by the following five utility companies: RWE, Vattenfall, ESB Group, EDP España and Riverstone

72 per cent of the growth in biomass burning is likely to be due to 31 coal to biomass conversions in the following five countries: The Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Ireland and Finland

[1] Assumes 75km2 of forest is harvested to produce 1 million tonnes biomass fuel.This estimate is intended to give a sense of scale, however, we are not suggesting that all the biomass is sourced from clear cutting forests and using 100% of the harvest for bioenergy.

[2] Assumes the combustion of 1 million tonnes of biomass, produces 1.86 million tonnes of CO2.